- Deconstructing the Logos:Don DeLillo's End Zone
The deconstructive ideas and operations of Jacques Derrida have found an amenable target in American experimental fiction of the last decade. Three recent books on postmodern fiction—Allen Thiher's Words in Reflection, Charles Caramello's Silverless Mirrors, and Jerome Klinkowitz's The Self-Apparent Word —provide Derrida-influenced readings of Barth, Barthelme, Coover, Gass, Pynchon, and those novelists, most of whom are associated with the Fiction Collective, that Klinkowitz introduced in his Literary Disruptions: Ron Sukenick, Raymond Federman, Walter Abish, Gilbert Sorrentino, and Steve Katz. Although the names of some new writers—Kenneth Gangemi, Frederick Tuten, Stephen Dixon, Guy Davenport—do surface in these three books, for the most part criticism repeats, covers the same texts with the same approach, a procedure at odds with Derrida's own methods. What I offer here is a Derridean analysis of a writer, Don DeLillo, and a novel, End Zone, that are unmentioned by Thiher, Caramello, and Klinkowitz. Several ironies surround DeLillo's absence from these and most other books on the contemporary American novel. Although his eight novels have been widely and well reviewed, and although several—End Zone, Americana, and Ratner's Star —are formally innovative, DeLillo has received comparatively little academic attention.1 Although End Zone is a particularly explicit and perhaps Derrida-influenced [End Page 105] deconstructive work, a novel in which DeLillo's intellectual and artistic sophistication is plainly evident, its subversions are largely ignored, whereas Coover's Universal Baseball Association, to which End Zone is similar, is explicated again and again. End Zone also has, as a "sports novel," readerly interests that the more academic or militantly theoretical novelists exclude, interests or expectations that, once denied, create a wider play of internal differences than more narrow, writerly texts can offer. "Midfiction" is the term Alan Wilde has coined for recent writers, such as Barthelme, Stanley Elkin, and Max Apple, who have synthesized or compromised experimental and realistic techniques. End Zone and the best of DeLillo's other books are, rather than "midfictions," polarfictions, combinations of unusual extremes, popular subgenres such as the detective story, disaster book, or science fiction mixed with profound ideas and forms from extraliterary sources—linguistics, anthropology, cybernetics, mathematics, and neurophysiology. Polarization, says Derrida in Of Grammatology, is the structure of language. DeLillo's polarizations in End Zone, as well as in Americana, Ratner's Star, The Names, and White Noise, create a plurality of orientations—inward to the processes of language and fiction, outward to psychological, social, and ecological relations, and outward as well to the readers solicited and confuted by DeLillo's rhetoric. My analysis of these orientations will, I hope, draw academic attention to End Zone and, by extension, to DeLillo's other, equally substantial work.
Discussing the shift from his first novel, the film-influenced Americana, to End Zone, DeLillo has said that with this second book "I began to suspect that language was a subject as well as an instrument in my work" (LeClair and McCaffery 81). As one meaning of his title suggests, DeLillo pursues his linguistic investigation to its ends, its poles: the origins of delusion about language in 2500 years of philosophical usage and the final consequence of that delusion in nuclear holocaust. Set in a would-be football factory called Logos College, End Zone deconstructs a primary subject of Derrida's subversions—logocentrism, in the words of DeLillo's narrator, one of "the darker crimes of thought and language" (54). In more positive terms, End Zone illustrates what Wittgenstein, a figure referred to in the novel, asserted about language: "The language game is so to say something unpredictable. I mean, it is not based on grounds. It is not reasonable (or unreasonable). It is there—like our life" (73). The novel also directs us to see the similarity between the language game (appropriately played) and the ecology of living systems, an analogy that provides an alternative to self-destructive end zones of human behavior.
As a football novel, "the book as television set" (90), End Zone has [End Page 106] a more conventional and wider initial appeal than any of the other subgenres...